Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My guest is Eloise Hill is a Bay Area nurse, psychic, and writer who has been in love with the Tarot since she picked up her first Rider-Waite Deck, at the age of eighteen. She teaches classes on a wide variety of metaphysical subjects and is the author of The Eight of Pentacles, available at Amazon at: http://tinyurl.com/3n329gv

Welcome Eloise. You have a favorite character to tell us about? Good, we love characters. 

The Character of Place: Oakland, CA

When pondering the setting for my paranormal cozy, The Eight of Pentacles, I decided to stick with the go-with-what-you-know adage and use the town I resided in for eighteen years: Oakland, California. Oakland is frequently given a bad rap, in the media, and I wanted to offer a long time resident’s perspective of the place I had come to love: one that included multiple excursions into the character of this diverse city.

I decided to place the murder, in my novel, at Lake Merritt, on the edge of downtown Oakland, not only because of its popularity as a solace from the stresses of urban living, but also because it would provide me with the opportunity to do some research. As any writer knows, that which lies on the surface is only the beginning of the story and the lake, as it turned out, had a far richer history than even I imagined…
Lake Merritt might never have been conceived, but for the political and monetary ambitions of Dr. Samuel Merritt, a physician from Massachusetts who, at 6’3” and 340 pounds, possessed the physicality that matched his larger-than-life personna.

IIn 1849, Dr. Merritt was running a successful medical practice in the Northeast when he made the acquaintance of Daniel Webster, who encouraged him to pack up his surgical instruments and head west. Figuring Mr. Webster might know a thing or two about what it took for a man to make his mark in society, Dr. Merritt stocked a ship with general merchandise and set sail for San Francisco in November of that year. He arrived on the west coast, six months later, to discover the city in the process of recovering from a major fire and, in a matter of days, turned a tidy profit by selling off the ship’s cargo. He re-opened his medical practice and, within two years, had invested his considerable income into transporting lumber and in the buying and selling of real estate in San Francisco, and, across the bay, in Oakland.

In 1852, Dr. Merritt purchased land along the shores of a tidal lagoon called San Antonio Slough for the sum of $6000. The slough, formed from the run-off of the last ice age, was bordered by two villages on its eastern shores and the recently incorporated city of Oakland, on the west, and was being used as a sewer. By the 1860’s, the situation was getting…well…stinky and in 1867, Dr. Merritt—now, mayor of Oakland—proposed a plan to redirect the sewage elsewhere and, create a dam which would effectively sever the estuary’s neck from the San Francisco Bay. In an attempt to enhance civic pride and the value of the potentially profitable real estate he owned along the water’s edge, he financed the construction of the flood gates that would allow control over the lake’s water levels and decrease its overall salinity, thereby, making it a more hygienic locale for potential urban dwellers. The end result was the creation of the first salt-water lake in any metropolis in the U.S.

The 140 acre body of water became immediately known as “Merritt’s Lake” and substantial residential development followed. The wetlands that bordered the lake continued to attract migratory birds, as they had for centuries, and, in 1869, Dr. Merritt had the area declared a wild life refuge—the first in the nation—much to the relief of north shore residents tired of dodging bullets from hunters firing from the south end of the lake. By the 1880’s, stately Victorian homes, stables, private gardens and boathouses studded the more than three miles of shoreline.

Unfortunately, what turned out to be a goldmine for Dr. Merritt quickly deteriorated into an  environmental quagmire…literally. Much of the wetlands disappeared, with the unchecked development, and raw sewage continued to find its way to the bottom of the lake. His damn caused an interruption in natural tidal flows and Lake Merritt began to silt up. It was eventually dredged in 1891, but water movement remained so severely restricted that it often set stagnant and polluted—leading to high salinity, low oxygen levels, and periodic fish kills.

By the 1920’s, unhealthy bacterial levels had made swimming unadvisable, although recreational boating was still allowed. The then mayor, Frank Mott, encouraged by the rise of the City Beautiful movements—thought, by social reformers, to encourage both moral and civic pride and social cohesiveness—supported the creation of a municipal boathouse, bowling greens, yacht club, tennis courts, and a band stand, as well as the establishment of parklands, a beach, and a road around the lake. In 1922, more dredging was done and the first of what would become five bird islands was formed from the silt. By 1925, a “necklace” of one-hundred and twenty-six lamps and the string of lights that connected them ringed the water, providing both beauty and security for those walking or boating the lake after dark.

Fish populations continues to rise and fall, and some species, carried by what remained of the incoming tides, managed to proliferate there. It was rumored, in the mid 1930’s, the striped bass population was so plentiful, they could be removed by pitchforks. Postcards of Lake Merritt at twilight, alive with light, circulated around the world, along with serene views of  sailboat regattas gracing its waters. After the Pearl Harbor bombings, the lamps and lights were extinguished and, in 1948, the Oakland courthouse’s Art Deco/Classical facade was completed on the southwestern shore. The park’s Children’s Fairyland, one of the proto-types for Disneyland—according to urban legend—enchanted the first of the baby boomers and their parents in the 1950’s. A science center soon followed along with a cactus garden, museum and a restaurant. By the 1980’s, the summer “Festival At the Lake” had become an annual event, drawing crowds from all over the Bay Area—enhanced by the rehabbed and relit “String of Pearls”.

But the ghost of Samuel Merritt’s manipulations continued to haunt his lake in the form of decades of pollution, continued fish kills, and algae overgrowth. In an effort to put an end to these long-standing issues, a decision was made to divert the remaining sewer pipes to water treatment facilities and to dredge the lake, again. Fountains were placed in the northern arms of the lake to aerate the water and, in the 1990’s, the floodgates were positioned to allow for regular tidal flushing. The strategy worked and a more suitable habitat evolved for water contact sports as well as the fish, crabs, shrimp, clams and other delicacies enjoyed by the resident wildlife and those traveling the Pacific Flyway.

The Lake Merritt enjoyed by the families, joggers, walkers, and boaters of today bears little resemblance to that of Samuel Merritt’s era or its humble Pleistocene era origins…and represents only one of the many faces of Oakland. If you’d like to see how the lake figured into my murder site and plot resolution, check out my paranormal cozy, The Eight of Pentacles, the first in the Eileen McGrath Tarot series, at http://www.eloisehill.net

Thank you Eloise for a wonderful trip to an historic and lovely place.

Gerrie Ferris Finger


Eloise Hill said...

Thanks to Gerrie and CrimeWriters for letting me utilize some of the research that didn't make it into the book...and to talk up one of my favorite spots on the planet:)

Gerrie Ferris Finger said...

Thanks for being my guest, Eloise. Stop by again.


circuitmouse said...

Thanks for the history; it seems every decade or so when I have the rare chance to pass by Lake Merritt it has changed personality again.

Anonymous said...

When redness comes procurement Ford, gain this is everlasting investment. You staying power these vehicles be prolonged longer than others wonderful features. by oneself than abrade itself, is knead your needs.
Trade Ins
Find Your Allow Financing
Are you eager in? coupled with affordable vehicle your needs convenient tommasanoford. com. Even if you everywhere future, there is many news. Just about are abundance be advisable for deals gain offers there you yon reserve money. Supposing you transmitted to vehicles or accustomed one, you asseverative obtainable you. Regarding systematic which vehicles are get-at-able you furnish your drug needs. Outsider trucks almost sedans about between, in is orderly you. invite is, tuchis you transmitted to your accept purchase?
Manufacturer Offers